The Truth behind Hamas' Cyber Warfare

Hamas operatives successfully managed to hack the cell phones of dozens of IDF soldiers. However, Amir Rapaport suggests that we take Hamas' cyber capabilities in the right perspective. Additionally: what is the real extent of ISIS activity in Israel? 

Photo: AP

The stories keep chasing one another, but the manner in which the IDF has 'sold' the recent revelation of the so-called cyberattack by Hamas against IDF troopers was the equivalent of admiring the potential of Qassam or Grad rockets as if they were intercontinental ballistic missiles or satellites.

The IDF summoned the local military correspondents along with the representatives of the foreign press and delivered a briefing by the IDF Intelligence Directorate, among others – thereby creating the drama. So what was the real story, put into the proper proportion? Hamas demonstrated its ability to employ fake profiles on the Internet and to persuade some IDF troopers to download a fake chat app which in effect proved to be a basic hacking malware.

These are capabilities every novice hacker is familiar with. They are a far cry from the cyber warfare capabilities of Israel and other players in the global cyber warfare arena. They are as far apart as the Gaza Strip is from outer space.

So here are a few facts to put everything back into the proper proportion: the cyber war is going on all the time, and Hamas is a marginal player in it. The social media abound with fake profiles planted there for countless reasons, and Hamas did not really invent this modus operandi, nor did it invent the use of fake apps. The IDF has been familiar with Hamas' cyber warfare unit for a number of years, and the serious leak of information stemmed from IDF having failed to educate their troopers to properly secure the information they have access to, more than from the technological capabilities of the enemy – in this particular case.

Another 'cyberattack' Hamas had initiated last month was reflected in the planting of a Hamas visual message in place the broadcast by Israel Channel 10, received through satellite dish by a small percentage of Israeli viewers. In this particular case, Hamas had transmitted its message using the satellite frequency – which is neither confidential nor secure. For economic reasons, the transmission power output for that channel is very low. Ten minutes had elapsed until the broadcast operators became aware of the Hamas 'takeover', and the visual message was removed by the simple act of having the signal power output increased.

In a few days, this writer will publish a report concerning another affair that involved a serious cyberattack against Israel. That attack had been staged by a cyber enemy that is far more sophisticated than Hamas, and was foiled by an equally sophisticated Israeli operation. Details will follow.

ISIS in Israel

The hyped reporting of the cyberattack by Hamas was almost on the same scale as the reporting of the truly important security event of this week: the horrible truck-ramming attack in the High Commissioner's Palace neighborhood in Jerusalem, in which four IDF officers and officer cadets were killed and 15 others were injured.

The attack was staged by a terrorist who is not regarded as an "immediate suspect": Fadi al-Qanbar, 28, of Jebel Mukaber, a father of four children, who was promptly shot and killed by the troopers he had attacked.

The Israeli Security Cabinet convened under the impression of the tremendous public outrage at the attack. The meeting was attended by the Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers, including the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Public Security, the IDF Chief of Staff, the Head of ISA and the Police Commissioner. Security officials reported the details of the attack and the encirclement of Jebel Mukaber to the Prime Minister and the other ministers. The Prime Minister and the other members of the cabinet decided to have the house of the terrorist demolished as soon as possible and to reject all applications for unification between members of the terrorist's family and relatives from the Gaza Strip and from the Judea and Samaria district, as well as to withhold the terrorist's body and avoid handing it over to the family. Additionally, a decision was made to administratively detain individuals who openly sympathize with ISIS. Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a directive to follow reports according to which Palestinians present at the scene of the truck ramming openly expressed their delight at the attack and to exercise the full extent of the law with any such individuals.

"According to all of the indications we have, the attacking terrorist is an ISIS sympathizer," said Netanyahu.

The cabinet decision reported most extensively is the one dealing with the administrative detention of ISIS supporters. In this case, too, things should be put into the proper proportion: the truth is, this decision was quite a surprise for the defense establishment, and it is fairly difficult to implement as there is no organization known as ISIS in Israel. The cabinet decision refers to the administrative detention of "ISIS supporters", but it compels ISA to penetrate deep into the minds and thoughts of individuals, as ISIS is more of a concept than an organization.

Minds cannot be read, of course, so instead, the defense establishment is currently looking for ISIS supporters who pose a particularly serious risk mainly according to statements published in the social media and information provided by field agents.

Under these circumstances, if only a few "ISIS supporters" are administratively detained pursuant to the cabinet's decision – they will be regarded as a lot.

And what about actual activity by ISIS in Israel?

Analyses by ISA, presented more than once to the government ministers, indicated that there are three hubs of solidarity with ISIS that has amounted to the establishment of small ISIS cells – in the northern part of the country, among the Bedouins in the Negev and in Eastern Jerusalem.

As far as the northern hub is concerned, back in 2014, seven Israeli Arabs, mostly from the Arab city of Sakhnin, were arrested on suspicions of having been involved in ISIS-related activity.

During their interrogation by ISA, the members of that cell admitted that they had organized into a nationalistic-religious group around the ideology known as "Salafi-Jihadism", which advocates global Jihad, and subsequently pledged their allegiance to the radical ideology of ISIS.

According to ISA, their investigations indicated that some of the members of that organization had attended several meetings with a Jihadist Sheikh who's well known in the north. In their meetings with the Sheikh, the suspects had focused on religious studies and on an introduction to Salafi-Jihadism, while the Sheikh encouraged them to recruit additional members to the Salafi-Jihadist movement by preaching religion and persuading others to believe in the way of Jihad.

The members of this unlawful organization held secret and strictly compartmentalized meetings in which they discussed the Salafi-Jihadist ideology, the activity of ISIS in Syria and their preparations to go out and fight in Syria. Among other things, their meetings included training in the fabrication of Molotov cocktails and the slaughtering of animals as preparation and mental conditioning for the slaughtering of infidels on Syrian soil.

Additionally, the members of the group communicated through the Internet with ISIS activists in Syria, including Israeli Arabs who had travelled to Syria in order to join the ranks of ISIS.

In that case, standard legal proceedings were initiated against the member of ISIS, including indictments, and administrative detention orders were not used, as this measure is usually intended to prevent security risks in advance. That was the case with regard to a group of individuals from the Bedouin village of Khureh near Dimona, some of whom had worked as teachers in the Israeli educational system, who were subsequently accused of being members of ISIS.

Pursuant to countermeasures such as the ones outlined above, no significant ISIS cells are currently known to exist in Israel or in Eastern Jerusalem. No significant ISIS activity takes place in the Judea and Samaria district either, as any attempt to establish an ISIS infrastructure over there is dealt with by the Palestinian security forces, not just by ISA.

According to the information available to the Israeli defense establishment, the most significant ISIS activists who are bearers of blue (= Israeli) identity cards are those who had responded to the call for Jihad and travelled abroad to fight within the ranks of ISIS in the wars in Syria and Iraq. So far, 60 Israeli Arabs had gone to fight for ISIS. 11 of them were killed in various battles. The high percentage of deaths and the defeats ISIS sustained on the battlefield have stopped the recruitment effort by ISIS in Israel almost completely. This recruitment effort continues, little by little, through the Internet (and it is reasonable to assume that even such "fringe" websites contain quite a few fictitious Internet entities employed by various interested parties).


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